Tag Archives: Horror

Retrospective: Silent Hill

Much of my gaming time over the last couple of months has been spent compensating for this generation’s dearth of creativity by delving deep into the back catalogue, saying goodbye to hardware backwards compatibility by enjoying some of my overlooked classics on the PS1 and PS2. One of these was the original Silent Hill, perhaps not afforded the credit it deserves in the wake of its admittedly better, more widely ported sequels, and certainly in the shadows of Resident Evil in the PS1’s survival horror canon, but one worthy of revisiting.

Silent Hill

As you’ll see above, it’s also responsible for possibly my favourite screenshot ever. (Courtesy of the Silent Hill Wiki.)

Despite its formidable reputation, I didn’t find Silent Hill scary. Its reputation for creeping psychological horror seemed overstated, with nothing that had me cursing it beyond a couple of cheap jump scares – an unexplained window breaking or sound of unseen objects clattering to the floor. Perhaps it’s too difficult nowadays to look beyond the rough edges and see a vicious creature torn from a tormented psyche when they look more like melted cake ornaments. Low-poly ones at that.

Shorn of what is arguably its raison d’être, though, Silent Hill is still worthy of your time. Firstly, a well-documented bug in the PS3’s backwards compatibility and some mixing issues aside, it’s one of the earliest games to have impressed me with its sound design. Akira Yamaoka’s dissonant soundtrack complements the Lynchian weirdness wonderfully and, along with the unsettling industrial sound effects, is by far the aspect of the game that has aged best.

When Silent Hill was re-imagined as Shattered Memories, it dropped combat entirely. This led me to believe that the combat, so often the weak point in games that aspire to more than action, would be terrible, but it’s really not. Ammo is scare enough to be valuable without discouraging you from pulling the trigger when necessary, and relying on melee combat is actually a realistic proposition. Simply by not having combat be a total drag, it outdoes most survival horror games, which is intended to be higher praise than it might sound like.

Not a life-changing classic, then, but another example of a clever, original franchise that has devolved into shooting and jump scares in this generation. People banging on about the depressing frequency with which this has happened may be getting tiresome, but you know how publishers can make us desist? Stop doing it.

F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin

Any FPS being released at the moment is taking a risk by coming out in the shadow of Killzone 2 and its unstoppable hype machine, but F.E.A.R. 2, which I’ll hereafter refer to as Project Origin for the sake of my sanity, has been getting some praise of its own. It even controversially scored higher than Killzone in the latest issue of Edge, which has caused consternation in some circles.

F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin

When my copy arrived, I must admit that my first impressions were slightly underwhelming. The first ‘interval’ – that’s ‘mission’ to you and me – takes place in a plush office block and has you fighting your way to the top against some generic special forces guys with a basic SMG and no sign of the game’s standard bullet time feature, and even the scary horror flashes toned down from how it bashed you over the head with them in the early stages of F.E.A.R. It’s really nothing more than a prologue, though, which becomes apparent when it ends in the wake of the first game’s finale.

Once you’re playing Project Origin proper, special abilities and all, it gets much more interesting. In the first few chapters after the prologue you get more variety of enemies – including my favourite: a trooper with a gas tank on his back that will make him blow up in a puff of smoke and giblets if you shoot it – and the scares come in, mostly consisting of apparitions and random psychic attacks on you and your enemies, with sneak attacks from a new kind of baddie that I won’t spoil coming in later. Continue reading F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin

I Love Dead Space

It’s a veritable Halloween in February here, what with this and Left 4 Dead occupying lofty positions in my current playlist and F.E.A.R. 2 shortly to join my collection, but before the inevitable comparisons to Resident Evil 5 start turning things a bit nasty, I have to state how bloody good this game is.

Get it? Bloody good?

Dead Space

I’m not getting into that whole Resi 5 comparison because it only ends in tears – suffice to say that Resi did it first but Dead Space has better controls – and this game can stand on its own merits. Yes, it has obvious filmic inspirations as well, and the similarities between the aesthetic here and stuff like Event Horizon, Alien, and The Thing are so clear as to almost go without saying, but this does its own thing where it matters and has plenty of surprises as it begins to ramp up within a couple of chapters. By that point you’ve been through several of the Nostromo Ishimura’s environments and it starts to mix things up on you a little bit.

It’s actually quite difficult to put my finger on what exactly it is that I like so much because so much has been seen before, so I’m just going to have to shrug and say that it’s just a very good, very polished game. It doesn’t really do anything new, a couple of nifty gimmicks like the dismemberment and zero-gravity sequences aside, but what it does it does well.

Maybe the fact that people have seen a lot of the stuff before is part of the reason why it didn’t set the sales charts on fire, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing. There’s nothing wrong with a game just doing old things in a polished and pretty way. It has fantastic presentation – the graphical quality is obvious from the screenshots and the HUD design is superb, but the audio is beyond stellar – and, if nothing else, the development team at EA Redwood Shores knew which parts of which games to borrow in making a well-rounded horror experience. Nothing wrong with that when it’s done as well and is as fun as this, right?

This may be tempting fate – new EA is still EA, after all – but fingers crossed that Dead Space did enough business to warrant a sequel.

2008’s Honourable Mentions

Not every game can be as good as Fallout, and indeed there are many excellent games from last year that I didn’t like as much as Mirror’s Edge at number ten but still deserve a mention, so here are a few more games from 2008, in no particular order, that fell short of making the main list but still deserve a mention.

  • Lost Odyssey – It was going to be between this and the game below for tenth spot on the list until Mirror’s Edge stormed in on Christmas Day and pipped them both. As one of the few JRPGs not to have disappointed this gen – I won’t play the well-received Tales of Vesperia until its PAL release – I found this to have likeable characters, an interesting story, and yes: some nice towns too.
  • Professor Layton and the Curious Village – When this became the surprise hit of the end of the year, it was well-deserved. It’s teasingly close to being a point-and-click adventure, it has a charming art style that looks like French animation, and Level-5 even managed to cram FMV cut-scenes in there to further the story. It helps, of course, that the puzzles and brainteasers are uniformly excellent and just the kind of thing to play on a handheld. Wait until the price has normalised and then give it a look.
  • Dead Space – It may be hard to describe this game in any terms other than its plainly obvious inspirations – Alien’s Nostromo with a dash of Doom 3 and a liberal sprinkling of Event Horizon, all topped with Resident Evil 4’s controls – but it’s still a highly satisfying and actually quite scary horror game. The companion animated movie is worth a rental as well.
  • Rock Band 2 – As I hadn’t bought a music game since Guitar Hero II, Rock Band 2 was my attempt to see how far things had come in the intervening generation of plastic instrument-based room-clutterers. Not all that far from the perspective of someone who only plays the guitar, but the boom in à la carte downloadable songs and the sheer amount of music that’s now on my hard drive to choose from makes it pretty irresistible. It makes you feel like a rock star and fulfils all similar clichéd review quotes, and I’d imagine it’s even better with the room for a set of drums.
  • Geometry Wars 2 – Pretenders be damned, this is the only twin-stick shooter to play. Take the successful gameplay of the first one and give it six more modes and some brilliant music and you won’t find many deals that are as obviously worth getting as that. Played on a big 1080p TV with surround sound, it may well give you a seizure, but you’ll have to agree that it’s worth it.
  • Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix – The degree to which I still love Street Fighter II has already inspired its own post, and this has made the other versions irrelevant. Looks great, plays well online, the balance tweaks are enough to actually improve things while not being sweeping enough to rile the hardcore, and if you disagree with any of those comments you can turn off whatever it might be that’s offending you. I don’t have a bad word to say about it, and it only didn’t make the final list because… well… no matter how good the game is, it’s still Street Fighter II again. Roll on February.
  • Persona 3 FES – This would have been in with a shout if I hadn’t played and preferred its sequel in the same year, but it’s still worth a look for its sufficiently different setting and tone. It’s also available for a pretty good price by now, so it could be one to bear in mind for when you’ve finished all your Christmas goodies.
  • Rolando – ‘An iPhone game!?’ you say? Yep. I liked LocoRoco a lot when that came out, and this is pretty blatantly ‘inspired by’ that game but with the benefit of what the PSP game lacked: tilt controls. It’s unfair to call it a clone, though, as it has a lot more gameplay variety and more creative level design, all designed from the ground up to take advantage of the iPhone’s particular gifts, and I might well end up making a case for it with its own post before too long. In the meantime, if you have an iPhone or iPod touch and are looking for a game with some meat to it, it’s only £5.99 and bodes well for the future of dedicated iPhone development.

I think that’s enough looking back for another year. See you in 12 months for more complaining about the state of [insert genre here].


CloverfieldThere’s little that I like more as a guilty pleasure than an invasion movie. For all its willful ridiculousness, Independence Day remains a film that I can watch on repeat and never tire of (my recent purchase of the Blu-ray means I’ve now seen it in the cinema – my first 12 rating! – and bought it three times on various formats), and I must admit to deriving a little bit of enjoyment out of the Hollywood interpretation of Godzilla. Stick on something from the 50’s with a bloke in an unconvincing rubber suit and I’m in heaven.

Alas, I never got around to seeing Cloverfield in the cinema, even as involved as I was with picking apart the untitled trailer – I subscribed to the hypothesis that it was a Cthulhu movie at first, which now is only topped by the rumour that it was Voltron (someone heard “it’s alive” from the trailer as “it’s a lion”, you see) in being wide of the mark – and viral campaign. Regardless, I’ve seen it now and want to weigh in with my impressions.

For all its flaws, which I’ll get onto in a bit, I thought it was one of the best, most original monster movies I’ve ever seen. Blair Witch did the shaky camera and discovered footage thing first – not to mention the teasing, Internet-led marketing – but that never struck a chord with me. Jaws taught us that the moments when you see the creature are most effective when they’re fleeting and don’t happen until the end, and Blair Witch’s conceit of showing nothing at all didn’t work for me. I’m not saying it was wrong, because it was their stylistic choice; just that I like to know what my on-screen companions are so shit-scared about. Shallow? Maybe, but it would piss me off if we never saw a monster here as well.

OK, so maybe Cloverfield wasn’t that original. We’ve established that it’s the result of a fling between Jaws and Godzilla and a tryst between their offspring and The Blair Witch Project. It has the spectacle of a Hollywood blockbuster married to the home-made aesthetic that we’ll be seeing a lot of in these years following the emergence of YouTube as a cultural force (see also: Diary of the Dead).

Special mention has to go to the visual effects in this film, though. How convincing everything looks is impressive enough – at no moment was I thinking about it as CGI – but to do it without a steadicam, often with the camera waving wildly? Some poor CG artists must have a few grey hairs after this one. Hopefully their sacrifices won’t be forgotten when awards season rolls around.

Credit should also be given to the film for not overstaying its welcome, being as it is a slender 85 minutes, but then again it does take rather a long time to get going. The party scenes weren’t half bad (I didn’t find the characters as annoying as some people have said), but the monster doesn’t even turn up until a good 25 minutes in, nearly a third of the film. Once we’re past that, though, it never lets up. Some cinemas had warnings for people who suffer from motion sickness that compared the effect to a rollercoaster, which is actually very apt.

The motion didn’t bother me, but what did was the same problem I have when watching someone else play an FPS: they never look where I want them to look. There’s one moment in particular when the monster is just there, and rather than filming it we get fleeting glimpses and a lingering shot of the soldiers shooting at it. Realistic? Yeah, I’d hide behind a car, too, but it’s a movie about a bloody great monster woken up by a falling satellite. Complaining about a bit of Hollywood drama in this is like complaining that an alien language in Star Wars has no appreciable sentence structure.

Although, to fall into my own trap, what kind of camera can fit 85 minutes of HD video onto an SD card? It’s not like they’re using a Mac to interface with an alien computer, but it seemed weird to me. Didn’t stop Cloverfield from being a must-see, but I’m just saying…

The Orphanage

The Orphanage.I’ve been interested to see The Orphanage ever since I saw it advertised with the Pan’s Labyrinth HD DVD as something presented by Guillermo del Toro. I’m quite wary of these endorsements, given that Tarantino’s name has given us such classics as Hostel, but I don’t think that del Toro has made a bad film yet, Pan was ridiculously good (to continue a theme from my last post, I own four copies of that film), and it’s looking like he’s going to direct The Hobbit. The man’s a legend, and the reviews of The Orphanage have justified his interest.

I had the opportunity to see The Orphanage ahead of my Blu-ray order arriving in a couple of weeks, and I was impressed. It’s not as terrifying as some critics (Mark Kermode, I’m looking at you) made out – I only had one good jump out of it – and it doesn’t even have a particularly unsettling atmosphere, a few scenes aside, but it still stands out as a bloody good film.

It’s not that often that you can say that about a horror film. Nowadays they tend to fall into the two categories of blood-drenched ‘torture porn’ (Hostel, Saw), or something from a director whose idea of horror is to jam on the piano keys every time another cat is inexplicably released from a cupboard. That or a remake of one of the seminal 70’s horror films. Both may be scary or entertaining in their own ways, but they’re usually used to prop up a crepe-paper story that really isn’t worth watching between the wanton bloodshed and cat jumping.

For one thing, it’s not like every post-Sixth Sense supernatural thriller, in that it’s not reliant on being turned on its head in the final few minutes to make it worthwhile and really doesn’t have all that much supernatural stuff going on. There are ghosts, sure, but no “they were dead all along” revelation. Just a story of past trauma that hits close to home (the following link is a spoiler) at this time and that I really should have seen coming in retrospect, and an explanation of how the events of the past 90 minutes have come to pass.

Cinemas that show non-English language films are like hen’s teeth around here – the nearest one to me that’s showing The Orphanage is 30 miles away – but if you have one (or the ability to import the BD or DVD), this one comes recommended.